Ivory Poaching Causes 37 Percent Elephant Decline In Congo
March 2, 2013

Elephant Numbers Still Declining In The Okapi Reserve

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

New statistics show that the elephant population in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has declined by 37 percent in the last five years.

According to wildlife surveys by the Wildlife Conservation Society and DRC officials, only 1,700 elephants now remain in the DRC, which holds the largest remaining forest elephant population.

Scientists at WCS warn that if people continue to poach forest elephants in DRC, then the species could become nearly extinguished from Africa's second largest country within 10 years.

A survey found that 5,100, or 75 percent, of the reserve's elephants have been killed in the last 15 years. WCS pointed out that these numbers are particularly shocking because the Okapi Faunal Reserve (OFR) is considered to be the best protected conservation area in DRC. The organization listed the top reason for the elephant decline as ivory poaching.

"The global poaching crisis for elephants is at epidemic proportions," said WCS Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science John Robinson. "The world must come together to recognize this problem and to stop the killing, trafficking, and demand, or we will lose elephants in the wild in our lifetime."

A civil war broke out between 1996 and 2003, and a survey found at the beginning of that time that 6,800 forest elephants reigned in an area of nearly 8,682 square miles. After the civil war, WCS says that the elephant's numbers dropped by 60 percent to about 2,700 elephants.

During the war, park guards were unable to protect much of the OFR, but they were able to document elephant kills and ivory poaching. Since the civil war ended, park rangers have reduced the decline from about 400 to 170 elephants annually.

According to WCS, park rangers are unable to keep up with the dramatic increase in demand for ivory, which is being fueled by economic growth in Asia, particularly in China.

WCS suggests people in the US connect with their friends and family in China and the Far East to show them how the demand for ivory is killing elephants. Also, the organization suggests people write to their congressional representatives and encourage them to vote for more money to be allocated to fight against international wildlife crime and protecting elephants in the range states.

"We urge the international community to support the DRC in the fight against the threat of extinction of the forest elephant," said James Deutsch, WCS Executive Director for Africa Programs.

WCS said it plans to create a social media hub, ran by a Beijing team, that focuses on information sharing, opinion, mapping, monitoring and calibration.

A study released by WCS in February showed that ivory trade poaching has claimed 11,000 elephants in Africa.

“This sad news from Gabon confirms that without a global commitment, great elephant populations will soon become a thing of the past,” WCS President and CEO Cristián Samper, said in a statement. “We believe that elephants can still be saved — but only if nations greatly increase their efforts to stop poaching while eliminating the illegal ivory trade through better enforcement and reduced demand.”